Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words: Lost in Reflections
Fang Bomb / iDEAL Recordings / Release the Bats / When Skies Are Grey

Often one can ignore the background details for a given recording without handicapping the listening experience too greatly. There's no question, however, that one's appreciation of Lost in Reflections by Thomas Ekelund, the man behind Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words, is enhanced by an awareness of the extremely challenging hand the Gothenburg-based composer has been dealt. Almost two years ago, he was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, a disease that permeates one's entire being and coats every moment in darkness. By his own admission, Ekelund's been reduced to a mirror-shunning spectre who can't bear to look into the eyes of others. Now fully aware of his condition and attempting to cope with it, he admits that he not only can't listen to Lost in Reflections objectively but has “a hard time listening to it at all.” The severity of the affliction can't help but have affected the character of the album (more precisely the first two songs are paired on a 7-inch while the other four are on LP), and the material is as relentless as one would expect.

Though the album apparently was recorded prior to the formal diagnosis (specifically, Lost in Reflections was recorded between December 2005 and March 2006), its gloom-laden spirit is clearly audible; consider as evidence the multi-layered dronescape “Lost & Losing” where electric guitars scream amidst the merciless howl of sweeping winds and lurching noise swells. Much of the fifty-minute recording sounds as if it was recorded outdoors by the seashore during a stormy night; hear, for example, the faint traces of string scrapes and guitar strums that struggle to penetrate the vaporous haze consuming “What Stays And What Fades Away.” Surprisingly, the release isn't wholly downcast: “What I Wouldn't Give To Feel Alive” exudes a placid and peaceful spirit that's not bereft of hope, and pealing guitars and chirping electronic squeals bob to the surface of “Crowded Rooms, In Empty Streets” too. Nevertheless, a zenith of sorts is clearly reached in the closing piece, “Himmelschreibenden Herzen,” when it unspools for a psychotropic nineteen minutes in a manner that suggests some inward plunge into madness. If one ever wondered what form a sonic portrait of Hades might assume, one need look no further than this grinding colossus. But be patient: while the deranged wail of a thousand tormented souls holds the first half hostage, epic melodies played by what sounds like strings, mellotron, and bells gradually rise to the fore during the second half. “Himmelschreibenden Herzen” hardly provides an easy exeunt to the album but it's definitely an incredible one.

January 2009